MODERATOR: So good afternoon to everybody from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining us this – for this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to welcome Rear Admiral Chase Patrick. Rear Admiral Patrick is the Director of Maritime Headquarters at U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, at the U.S. Sixth Fleet. His recent visits to Africa included engagements in Algeria and Senegal. Rear Admiral Patrick oversees all Africa partnership station exercises in West, North, and East Africa, which includes Obangame, Phoenix, and Cutlass Express. Rear Admiral Patrick will discuss Exercise Obangame Express 2023, one of three African regional “Express” series exercises sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Rear Admiral Patrick, then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the briefing.
So, as a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and so with that, I’d like to turn it over to Rear Admiral Chase Patrick, Director, Maritime Headquarters, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, for his remarks.
RADM PATRICK: Okay, Johann, thank you for that introduction, and it was a very professional opening to this media opportunity. So Rear Admiral Chase Patrick here. So at U.S. Naval Forces Africa, we’re committed to being a reliable and long-term partner in Atlantic Africa. We believe that the safety and security in the waters surrounding Africa are critical to maintaining a stable and safe global environment. But due to the very large size of the continent and the complexities that – of the security situations within every country, we also recognize that no one country can provide, yeah, that safety and security across the continent alone.
So that said, I would like to share some of the work that we’ve accomplished together with our partners and allies during this year’s Exercise Obangame Express. We’ve recognized that exchanging ship-boarding techniques is not enough to combat transnational maritime crimes. This year we included several training opportunities for maritime and police forces to practice and demonstrate the proper collection and reporting of evidence. Judicial prosecution helps to close the loop on all the hard work that’s being done at sea by our boarding teams. We had personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement team as well as U.S. Army Special Forces work together with our partners on comply and entry measures, and also had support from other agencies such as Interpol and INL, who provided training on database prosecution techniques.
We also believe that the diversity of the U.S. Naval Force is our strength, and we’re really proud to be able to showcase that. This year we had sailors return to their birth countries to not only train with partners, but to bridge language and cultural barriers. I’d like to highlight just two examples of this: Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Agossou Marcellin, who traveled back to Cotonou, Benin, as a medical trainer; and Lieutenant Victor Agunbiade, who was born just one hour outside of Lagos and returned to Nigeria as the U.S. Navy’s country lead. These types of experiences are critical to the relationships that we’re building with our African partners.
During the exercise, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa Band also had several performances throughout Lagos, including at galleries and schools. The band had the opportunity to play music and collaborate with local musicians, building partnerships and relationships that hopefully will last a lifetime. As we can all appreciate, music is a universal language, one that we can all enjoy.
And lastly, we sent three admirals or flag officers to participate in this year’s Obangame Express. We’re committed to supporting African initiatives and solutions to shared maritime challenges, and that is often best achieved when our collective leaders are able to talk directly to each other.
And with that said, I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much, Rear Admiral Patrick. We’ll now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. I see we already have a couple of questions. That’s fantastic.
So for the first question today I’d like to go to Mr. Adeniyi Kunnu of Lagos Talks 91.3 in Nigeria. And his question is: “How does this exercise enable collaborative solutions to the insurgency problems across the coastline of West Africa?”
RADM PATRICK: Mr. Kunnu, thank you for your question. I think I was able to address most of your question during my opening remarks, but at U.S. Naval Forces Africa, we’re committed to being a reliable and long-term partner in Atlantic Africa, and we believe that the safety and security in the waters surrounding Africa are critical to maintaining a stable and safe global environment. And we recognize that the dynamic threat posed by violent extremist organizations do require creative and collaborative solutions to tackle those issues.
African nations, we’ve seen, have been taking the lead in pushing maritime security toward the top of their international agenda, and African leadership in this area reflects (inaudible) change both in how security is understood and defined on the continent, focusing on maritime as well as land-centric threats and challenges. I think most of the countries appreciate that they are maritime nations.
The U.S. Naval Forces Africa sees the continual development of maritime skills and enhanced relationships with our African partners as a critical piece to enhancing maritime security. The strategy is focused on building the combined maritime security capabilities of participating nations and facilitating the regional integration so our partners can directly address the challenges within their territorial waters.
So I mean, that’s the strategy. But to get at the heart of your question, specific to Obangame Express – so this exercise gives us the opportunity to collaborate and work on our combined capabilities to combat maritime challenges. From boarding procedures to legal jurisdiction and prosecution, we’re working together to become a stronger force.
We recognize that African problems can only be solved by African solutions, and that is why we’re here, to learn from each other and share ideas to enhance maritime security and to ensure the waters surrounding Africa are secure and conducive to long-term prosperity. For that to happen, we need to work on developing the relationships between each of us and the neighboring countries. And if we’re building good relationships and we’re training together and operating together in the form of exercises, then that’s what ultimately builds trust, and trust is the foundation of any good relationship. And then that’s when we’re going to really make an advance in peace and security.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, Admiral. So I see a couple of submitted questions here, and we had another one which was also submitted in advance all on the same topic, so from Mr. Pedro Alonso of EFE Spanish news agency and also from Lucia Blanco of EFE Agency and of – and from Joe Babvier at Reuters. Similar questions in a similar vein referring to the upcoming Russian and Chinese joint exercises with South Africa in South African waters which are due to take place soon, and also with this coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So the question is: What is the U.S. view on those upcoming exercises and is the U.S. concerned about that joint exercise, Russia, China, and South Africa?
RADM PATRICK: Yeah, so I appreciate the question. I would say at the heart, our goal is not to force a choice between us and any other country. Instead, we’re really focused just on developing each of our partners’ security goals, and what’s important to their citizens, what benefits human rights and strengthens peace and stability in their countries and governments. And then we’ll work with them to help find or chart a course that gets them to that goal. So I hope that’s helpful. Over.
MODERATOR: Yes, indeed. Thank you very much. I saw that Kate Bartlett of VOA had a question. Kate, did you put your hand down or are you still interested in asking a question? Kate might have gone offline for a moment. She’s muted. Okay. Kate, if you had something, we can come back.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Okay. Good.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi. I put my hand down because Joe from Reuters asked a very similar question, but I would just like to follow up with the Rear Admiral, please, on whether there are any upcoming U.S. naval exercises planned with South Africa and whether the fact that South Africa is going ahead with these exercises with Russia and China means the U.S. will think twice about holding exercises with South Africa in the future? Thank you.
RADM PATRICK: Hey, Kate, I appreciate the question. We do invite South Africa to our exercises, and they’ve, as I recall, have declined to participate in those. We do have upcoming exercises, for example Cutlass Express, which is focused on some of our partner countries on the eastern side of Africa which I think would have been a really good place to involve South Africa, but they’re just – they’re not playing in that exercise this year. Is that helpful?
QUESTION: Yes. Thanks very much, Rear Admiral.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you, Admiral, for that explanation. Let’s do – we’ve got a couple more live questions here. A friend – a longtime friend of our hub calls, Pearl Matibe, has her hand up. So, Pearl, I’d like to go ahead and open it up for you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much and thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it. I just want to get like clear clarification, if you don’t mind, Rear Admiral Patrick, for me. On this issue regarding South Africa, this is really important for us to get real clear. Could you please reconfirm: for this particular exercise, was South Africa invited? Did South Africa decline to attend? And given the fact that South Africa itself, for example, has more than 1,700 miles of coastline – Mozambique has more than 1,500 miles of coastline; was Mozambique invited? Did Mozambique decline to attend? Please clarify on this specific issue.
The second part of my question to you is for us to evaluate the performance of these exercises, can you speak in terms of numbers? Over the last five to seven years – if you want to go back to maybe 2017 – that you’ve been holding these exercises, how many numbers of African forces has U.S. Africa Command been training in these exercises? I see, yes, you’re telling us the number of countries that have been coming. Can you tell us quantity of volume? What have you been training in terms of African forces? Thanks very much for taking my question.
RADM PATRICK: Hey, Pearl. Hey, I appreciate your questions. I mean, to the first question, I’ll need to follow up with my staff to confirm the invitation to South Africa. I’m pretty certain that we do invite them annually, but I would need to go back and confirm that. And we can follow up through our PAO Office to get you the final response on that.
I would tell you just – just in terms of our relationship with South Africa, we’re always keen to build – to building and growing that relationship. We do make it a point to send our ship in port to that country anytime that we circumnavigate the continent. And in fact, we did have the Hershel “Woody” Williams there just – I think just this past fall, who pulled into one of the ports there, and that’s not the first time we’ve done that. So any opportunity we get to actually exercise with our partners in South Africa, we do seek that.
As far as the actual numbers or quantity, I know I can produce that information, but again, I don’t have that handy here. But what I’ll ask is that you allow me to follow up with you through our public affairs officers, and we’ll try to get you some information on sort of the quantity of the training that’s been happening over the last several years. Is that helpful? Over.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much. That’ll be very, very helpful. I look forward to receiving the information.
RADM PATRICK: Okay.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much. So we have a lot of Lusophone attendees, and I’d like to invite the admiral to – if he would respond to Carlos Henriques’ question from LUSA News Agency. He has three questions: “What are the key security risks facing Southern Africa? Will Washington’s strategic orientation continue to be internationalist? And as South Africa is one of the key partners” – well, again, it’s a question about South African participation, so I think we – I think we addressed that. But perhaps some more general questions about key security risks facing Southern Africa and the area where this exercise took place and also the geostrategic orientation.
RADM PATRICK: Yeah, Carlos, appreciate the question. The – again, not to speak for our partners – I mean, we work with them on these. But some of the security areas where we engage our partners specifically involve IUU fishing; any form of trafficking, whether it’s narcotics trafficking or other illicit forms of trafficking in the maritime. I mean, those are – yeah, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, helping them have a better understanding for what’s happening in their waters. And then certainly piracy, I mean, has continued to be an issue.
So these are all areas where we’re assisting our partners with trying to understand how to collaborate and provide better security, again, to some of these challenges. Over.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much. We have another question on cooperation between the United States and partner countries. So other than – this is from Bruhan Makong from Capital FM of India – of Kenya. “Other than South Africa, how is the U.S. working with navies from East African states such as Kenya to build their capacity to combat terrorism in their territorial waters?”
RADM PATRICK: Yeah, I appreciate the question. So East Africa, our main vehicle for cooperation and training is our Cutlass Express exercise that occurs in the March time frame, and similar challenges – they’re looking to improve their ability to cooperate regionally, to improve their maritime domain awareness, to improve their ability to interdict any vessels that might be engaged in illicit activity on the high seas. We do, during the Cutlass Express exercise, have the U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment who are going to be participating to help do partner training. So that’s the general design of that exercise and engagement with East Africa.
And again, as I highlighted earlier, we do have ships that do – particularly the Hershel “Woody” Williams that does periodically transit around the continent. So we make it a point to try to seek training opportunities with our partner nations in East Africa when the Hershel “Woody” Williams is actually transiting through there. So they’ll make some stops in select ports along the way, and we’ll use that opportunity to address some other areas for cooperation and training. Over.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much. We had one more question about Obangame Express from Evelyn Usman of Vanguard Media in Nigeria. “Please enumerate the successes and challenges of the exercise since inception.”
RADM PATRICK: Hey, Evelyn. Hey, I appreciate your question. I guess up front what I would say, that the biggest success, perhaps, is that the piracy statistics in recent years have been coming down, and that we attribute to the improved cooperations that’s happened in West Africa. I’d also add that certainly in the early years of this exercise, the technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now, so that’s actually improved the ability for us to do coordination at sea and communication between the regional MOCs.
Our partners have collectively gotten more access to radars and other means of performing maritime domain awareness. But at the same time, yeah, so are – some are – so are some of those bad actors who are out there on the high seas. They’re equally resourceful. So that means that we’re going to continue to work together to try to find ways to identify, track, and perhaps apprehend and prosecute those illicit traffickers or those who are engaged in IUU fishing.
So the evolution of this exercise is intended to demonstrate how much we’ve grown as a team. Initially, Obangame Express started as a communications exercise with a small number of at-sea training opportunities. So 12 years later, we’ve grown into the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western Africa.
As always, maritime security is a team sport, and every year that we hold the exercise, I mean, the team gets bigger, it gets a little bit better, a little bit more capable, and a little bit more advanced. And this year we’ve got 32 nations who are participating in this exercise. So we’re really proud of it, and we’re really proud of what our partners have accomplished. Over.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much, Rear Admiral Patrick. I’m glad that we were able to get to so many questions today, and we really appreciate your time. I was wondering, do you have any final words or final thoughts for us today?
RADM PATRICK: Just in closing, that there’s a lot of commitment across the U.S. interagency to help our African partners. They’re all true believers, and they want to, at the end, make sure that our African partners within their countries and their people all enjoy the prosperity for which they have such great potential and wonderful resources to support. And anything we can do to help them build the security to enable that future prosperity for their people is what we’re all about.
A lot of it begins with, again, these are all maritime nations, and they’re all, naturally, very focused on the blue economy, which is very important to each of those countries. And anything we can do to help them improve the security, to grow economic investment, and ultimately to provide benefits to their people, we’re here to help facilitate that. And it’s a great pleasure and privilege to be a part of it. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you so much. And I see that some of the journalists today did have some requests for details and possibly some follow-up. So we’ll be happy to entertain that and facilitate that. You can send any detailed follow-up questions to the Sixth Fleet Naval Forces Africa Public Affairs Office, or if you’d like, you can send them to our office here at the Africa Regional Media Hub and we’ll be happy to pass those along.
So I want to thank Rear Admiral Chase Patrick, Director of Maritime Headquarters, U.S. Naval Forces Africa, U.S. Sixth Fleet, for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating. And if you have any questions about today’s call, as I mentioned, you may contact us at AFMediaHub@state.gov. And also we invite you to join us on Twitter; you can use the hashtag AfHubPress, or follow us on Twitter @AfricaMediaHub on Twitter.
So thank you very much, and that concludes today’s call.
# # #